Authorities in Niger should immediately release journalist Kaka Touda Mamane Goni and halt legal proceedings against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On March 5, police arrested Kaka Touda, an independent journalist who publishes news reports on his Facebook and Twitter pages, at his home in Niamey, Niger’s capital, according to the journalist’s lawyer, Boudal Effred Mouloul, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and news reports .
His arrest stemmed from a complaint filed by the local General Reference Hospital, which alleged that Kaka Touda’s posts on social media on March 4 about a suspected COVID-19 case at the hospital posed a threat to public order, according to Boudal and Chaibou Samna, the public prosecutor in charge of the case, who spoke to CPJ over the phone.
On March 9, Kaka Touda was presented before a public prosecutor, who said that the state would pursue a case against the journalist for "dissemination of data likely to disturb public order" under Niger’s 2019 cybercrime law , Boudal told CPJ. He said Kaka Touda’s next court date has been postponed twice, most recently on March 23 due to court delays related to the virus, and is now scheduled for March 26.
If found guilty, Kaka Touda could face up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of five million West African francs ($8,169), according to the cybercrime law.
Kaka Touda is being held at Niamey’s Civil Prison, Boudal said. The journalist is suffering from an upset stomach, dizziness, and a worsening injury to his left foot, according to an individual recently in contact with him who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
“Kaka Touda Mamane Goni and all other journalists in Niger should be free to cover the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak without fearing that they will be thrown in jail. Niger authorities should release Kaka Touda immediately, ensure he is given proper medical care, and drop their case against him,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Authorities should not confuse censorship and the detention of a journalist with prudent public safety measures as part of their coronavirus response.”
Kaka Touda has over 3,800 followers on Facebook and over 6,300 followers on Twitter , where he frequently covers national defense and alleged corruption.
After Kaka Touda published his post about the suspected COVID-19 case on March 4, the General Reference Hospital issued a statement, which the journalist posted on Twitter , denying that it had any such case.
Nigerien authorities publically confirmed the country’s first coronavirus case on March 19, according to news reports .
Samna told CPJ that Kaka Touda was arrested because, after he posted his report that there was a suspected COVID-19 case at the hospital, “all the people ran away, and they refused to go to the hospital.”
Samna said that he was simply applying the law in the case, and added that he was traveling and had not yet reviewed the formal complaint.
CPJ called the General Reference Hospital at its publicly listed number, but the call did not go through.